If you’re a park and recreation professional, you already know that building community is hard but rewarding work. It’s about getting to know your neighbors, connecting with local organizations and celebrating what makes your community unique. But how do you do this as a small team or by yourself on a tight budget? These tips will help get you started!
Invest in social media efforts
Social media is a great way to engage with your community. The key is to use social media as a tool for connection — not simply promotion. Here are a few ways you can maximize your social posting:
- Use social media to connect with your audience. Don't promote your park or programs all the time; let people know you're listening, too. A good rule of thumb is to promote your park 20 percent of the time, while sharing other content the other 80 percent of the time. Answer their questions directly, even if they're not directly related to the park or programs in any way ("Should I wear white on my wedding?"). This shows that you care about what people think and it makes them more likely to interact with you in the future.
- Promote events and programs through social channels when they're first announced — and then again while they're happening! You can also post photos during events or after so that people who couldn't make it out will still see what happened. You can even establish a hashtag so your attendees can also share their pictures with one another!
- Create an account for each location within your organization so that more people have access to share one another’s content. This will also allow you to cater to the needs of each location’s visitors more effectively.
Take advantage of neighborhood events
It always pays off to be a good neighbor. Get involved everywhere that you can in your community (an idea that makes sense given the meaning of the word “community”).
It's important to give back, especially when it comes to local events. If there's something going on in the park, use it as an opportunity to build new friendships. Offer gifts for attendees to create an additional incentive and drive engagement!
Here are just a few ideas on how you can spread the word about your park through freebies:
- Free admission (or discounted tickets) if they bring a certain number of friends along with them.
- Branded shirts, hats or water bottles. This can be a great way to get the word out about your park if people see your community members sporting your cool swag.
Showing that you care about the organizations and individuals hosting events at the park is a great investment in your neighborhood. Keep an eye out for opportunities where your park can help anyone in need.
You may even find a way to support another business or organization by offering them space for a new event! If there are organizations in your area that feed people experiencing homelessness on a regular basis, offer them space in your park so they can hand out food or clothing without worrying about parking or other logistical concerns.
Parades and festivals are another great ways to bring people together. Consider staffing one of the booths at these events with information about how visitors can visit your park and explore what it has to offer.
Always be aware of what's happening around you. You just never know when someone might need your help or need a friend!
Know your audience
Now that you're getting out in your community, it's now time to figure out how to reach more people who can get involved.
First, spend intentional time learning who your target market is. A good place to start looking for this information is through historical data: What are the current and historic demographics in the region? Where have people been moving to? Are there any areas that have experienced growth or decline in population, income or education levels?
Next, spend time learning where they're coming from — both physically and figuratively. If they work close by but live far away (or the opposite), what factors might play into their choice of where to get fresh air? What types of activities are most appealing — walking along city trails with friends or hiking alone? Playing basketball at an outdoor court or cycling around a nature preserve?
Every audience and community is different. So finding out what your community needs and then providing that for them is going to be key to your continued success.
Invest in your community
One of the best ways to engage with your community is by investing in it. Whether it’s by hosting a fundraiser, volunteering at an event that serves an important cause, or setting up activities and materials that promote public safety and health awareness. By getting involved in these activities, you can develop stronger relationships within the area as you help people feel comfortable in their surroundings while giving back to those who need it most.
Keep your community in the know about your upcoming events and programs. You can send out weekly newsletters or emails highlighting all of the changes being made around town!
There are so many ways to get involved and promote your park, but it’s important that you do so effectively. You can use social media, events and other promotional methods to reach out to people who might not know about your park yet or may be interested to learn more about what they have access to.
If someone does take interest in joining you and becomes a part of a regular group that works with your park through work or school, that’s great news! Being able to build relationships with these individuals will help bring them back again when needed and encourage others who may have been thinking about joining up.
Being a part of your community isn’t just about cooperation or collaboration. It’s also about taking the time to listen and learn from those around you. Every person in your community matters and letting your community know that you’re listening will go a long way.
An important function of a park is helping people understand what communities already have in their backyards. Whether it’s a social event like a festival or a concert, you provide spaces where people can relax and enjoy nature together. We hope these tips will give you some ideas on how best to reach out to your community so everyone can take advantage of their beautiful local park!
Aidan Augustin is the co-founder and president of Feathr, an industry-leading software company making digital marketing more accessible to nonprofits and event organizers.